Social media giants must be responsible for content to halt democratic 'crisis' caused by fake news, MPs say

Committee highlights ‘systematic manipulation of data to support the relentless targeting of citizens, without their consent, by campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate’

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Saturday 28 July 2018 16:51
Comments
The government is expected to publish a white paper later this year on reforms to make the internet safer
The government is expected to publish a white paper later this year on reforms to make the internet safer

Social media giants must be made liable for harmful content on their sites to tackle the democratic “crisis” caused by fake news, a powerful committee of MPs has said.

A leaked parliamentary report condemned tech firms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, for acting “irresponsibly” over data collection and called for new laws to make them accountable for the content on their sites.

Cross-party MPs warned over the “relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans and their behaviour” and called for tougher electoral laws to combat interference.

Tory MP Damian Collins, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, said it was “a crisis in our democracy – based on the systematic manipulation of data to support the relentless targeting of citizens, without their consent, by campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate”.

The report was due to be published on Sunday but it was leaked by former Vote Leave boss Dominic Cummings, who has faced censure for repeatedly refusing to give evidence over potential misuse of data during the EU referendum.

Mr Cummings, who was a key figure in the Brexit campaign, reportedly declared “f*** the charlatans embargo” when he posted the document on his personal blog ahead of its official publication.

The 18-month probe, which will publish in full in the autumn, covers issues ranging from Facebook’s apparent failures to stop the inciting of hatred against Rohingya Muslims in Burma to concerns around Russian meddling in elections.

The recommendations include:

:: A levy on tech firms to pay for education and the information commissioners office;

:: A public register of political advertising and more transparency for major donors;

:: An audit of social media advertising by an independent body, such as the Competition and Markets Authority.

Theresa May has warned tech giants that they must root out extremist content from their platforms and the government is expected to publish a white paper later this year on reforms to make the internet safer.

However key figures such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have come under fire for failing to come to parliament to give evidence, while others have been criticised for being evasive.

Mr Cummings has also been embroiled in a fractious battle with Mr Collins, as he has repeatedly refused to appear before the committee’s fake news inquiry.

He said the report itself was “fake news” and said MPs have “littered their report with errors and misunderstandings about the legal framework for elections”.​

The row stems from the Facebook data scandal, where political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was accused of misusing private information to target voters.

Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign group headed up by Mr Cummings, was dragged into the scandal when whistleblowers claimed it had employed advertising firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to put out targeted messages during the EU referendum.

AIQ’s chief operating officer, Jeff Silvester, told MPs the firm had worked for Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL but denied links with the firm itself.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in